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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Darrell Bazzell, DNR Secretary, on the Lake Michigan shoreline. © Robert Queen

April 2002

Making headway

In an Earth Day message, Secretary Bazzell accounts how many things are going right and what efforts are under way to stay the course.

Darrell Bazzell


Secretary Bazzell on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

© Robert Queen

April and Earth Day provide a natural benchmark to look at the last year's accomplishments and set a course for the next year. I'm pleased that DNR staff and our partners made headway in so many areas, and I'm happy to discuss the common course we are settling with citizens to improve the natural world. Here are some of the projects that struck me as noteworthy.

Forestry restructuring – Our forestry bureau was reorganized as a division to raise the prominence of these programs. The new bureaus include Forest Protection, Land Management, Forest Administration and a Forest Sciences group. We have also audited how state forestry funds are expended.

One important goal of our restructuring is finding new ways to serve the growing number of private landowners who want to develop long-term plans for their woodlots. Currently just over two million private acres are managed under the Managed Forest Law and almost half a million acres under the Forest Crop Law. We are currently recruiting and hiring additional foresters authorized by the Legislature to help private landowners manage their forested acres. We also expect to increase our commitment this year to forestry education, urban forestry, gypsy moth suppression and grants to promote sustainable practices on county forests.

Master Planning continues on major properties – the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest and the Brule River State Forest.

Dam removals – Historically, Wisconsin rivers and streams were liberally dammed to provide power, water supplies, control floods and impound water for recreation. Most of the 3,700 dams were built between 1850-1900 and more than half statewide are still privately owned. All dams require regular attention and maintenance to avoid catastrophe from failures and flooding. Moreover, dams can form barriers that impede natural fish migration from spawning grounds. Since the late 1800s, 700 dams have washed out or been removed. Since 1967, we have deliberately removed 50 dams that outlived their useful lives.

I'm pleased to say that the work of carefully assessing and removing antiquated dams continues. Last fall, the last of four dams was removed on the Baraboo River restoring free flow on 120 river miles. For the first time since the 1840s, walleye, sturgeon and other fish have full access to spawning areas and summering grounds on the Baraboo. The number of fish species found along the river has more than doubled, and we believe the Baraboo River may be the longest undammed river in the nation. I'm pleased to report similar removal of aging dams including the Franklin Dam on the Sheboygan River, the Orienta Dam on the Iron River, the Deerskin Dam on Deerskin Creek and the Ward Dam on the Prairie River.

Tight budgets still allow for too few inspectors to assure dam safety statewide, but we are making headway in removing old dams and restoring free-flowing waterways.

Northern Initiative – Our commitment continues to work with northern Wisconsin communities to define the unique features of our Northwoods and develop the mechanisms to guide reasoned future growth. Northern Wisconsin remains a wonderful place to work and a nationwide destination for retirees to enjoy excellent quality lifestyle at reasonable prices. Maintaining the flavor of the Northwoods experience in the face of mounting development pressures, demands of a robust tourism industry, efforts to keep forestland productive and opportunities for community employment stretch the fabric of natural resources that knit the region together.

One important strategy is protecting the north's most delicate features from human pressures. The Northern Initiatives Wild Lakes and Shoreline Protection Project worked with partners to set aside nearly 15,000 feet of fragile shorelines. The Forest Legacy Project used federal funds to buy partial development and access rights to 72,000 acres of private forestland in northern Wisconsin. Another $4 million in federal funding awaits the President's signature so we can sustain these forestlands and slow the fragmentation of wooded areas.

Wisconsin Lakes Partnership – This year we enter our second decade of working collectively with the Wisconsin Association of Lakes, lake districts, the UW-Extension, shoreline owners and recreationists to protect Wisconsin lakes. We aim with partners to monitor lake water quality, protect and restore shoreland habitat, reduce on-water conflicts among users, forestall the invasion of exotic aquatic organisms, and encourage lake education programs. I get recharged at this time of year by meeting with more than 600 lake activists at their annual convention, just as I was impressed last fall by a statewide symposium to examine the threats to groundwater quality. The continued commitment of the Wisconsin citizenry to our surface waters, groundwater and wetland protection is gratifying. It's a visible sign of our collective will to sustain a healthy outdoors.

Encourage outdoor experiences and enthusiasm among children – That enthusiasm among adults should be mirrored by our efforts to educate and interest children in these same issues. I'm so pleased that DNR remains an important partner and an agent in helping children have fun with nature and value its importance.

This last year, more than 4,600 adult instructors helped introduce more than 32,000 students to safe hunting. Snowmobile and ATV instructors reached 13,600 students; boating instructors taught on-water skills and judgment to almost 7,400 students, young and old. Hundreds of additional volunteers led fishing clinics and held trapping workshops.

DNR staff also encourage hands-on experiences through special youth hunts, outdoor workshops and talks at our Sandhill Outdoor Skills center in Babcock, programs at Havenwoods, and by providing day programs and overnight experiences to more than 90 schools each year at our MacKenzie Environmental Center in Poynette. This year we also hired Michelle Grimm, a family outdoor skills coordinator, to set up and lead after-school and weekend programs for families in southeastern Wisconsin.

And as you'll read elsewhere in this issue of the magazine, DNR staff will be leading 63 trips this year to show the public the beauty of our State Natural Areas as well as the range of rare plant and animal communities we preserve in these special gems.

Those children we don't reach directly hopefully get interested in the outdoors through some of our other educational outreach. Our partnership with Discover Wisconsin Productions puts a TV show, "Into the Outdoors," into homes each weekend morning to encourage kids to explore the outdoors. We participate in two international environmental education programs – Project WILD and Project Learning Tree – to train teachers and provide classroom-ready materials so environmental themes can be built into their academic coursework. These programs have reached more than 1,200 teachers in Wisconsin. Other special educational outreach like the Easy Breathers program in Milwaukee allies with high school students to teach their communities about the consequences of air pollution. Teacher workshops have also led six schools to examine the release of mercury from school science labs.

Our Environmental Education for Kids program, EEK!, provides class materials and a website where kids can research their science papers, make seasonal observations, learn about outdoor careers or just read interesting facts about Wisconsin plants and animals. More than 40,000 students each month are logging-on and using EEK!

A systemic approach to thwart invasive species – On land, by sea and air, our native species are continually threatened by exotic species whose invasion threatens our natural diversity. Monitoring and retarding the spread of invasive species is a costly and important battle to wage.

The "land battle" requires both scouting and action to contain the spread of more than 24 invasive plants, shrubs, vines and trees. Such species as garlic mustard, wild parsnip and reed canary grass will only be contained by an educated citizenry trained to recognize the plants and equally trained to safely hand-pull these plants, grub them out, apply biological controls or chemical controls when the plants are most vulnerable. Partnerships with garden clubs, nature centers, highway maintenance crews and dedicated land managers banded together in the Invasive Plants Association of Wisconsin can educate and encourage public works volunteers to stem the spread of these species.

The "war at sea" to contain such aquatic invaders as zebra mussels, lamprey, rusty crayfish and Eurasian water milfoil got an important boost when the Governor formed a Governor's Task Force on Invasive Species a year ago and allocated $300,000 a year to combat invasive species. Slowing the spread of these organisms will include adult and student education to recognize the invasive species, thoroughly clean boats at launch sites, handle bait carefully, watch shoreline vegetation and participate in programs to introduce safe biological controls.

The "air war" will include trapping and spraying to slow the spread of gypsy moth, reducing mosquito populations and testing crows that may spread West Nile Virus. Deer herds and domestic cattle will need continued surveillance to quickly identify and contain such virulent diseases as Bovine Tuberculosis, Chronic Wasting Disease and Cranial Abcessation Syndrome.

Recovering extirpated species – One of the most gratifying aspects of our natural resources work is the satisfaction and spiritual joy when we successfully reintroduce a species to Wisconsin. Equally gratifying are the new friends we make along the way. Friends groups and partnerships are especially strong when the end result is a new species running, swimming or flying free in Wisconsin.

We have successfully restored eagle, peregrine falcon and wild turkey populations. More recently, timber wolves are on the road to recovery, despite a debilitating mange outbreak. We have hopes that elk and whooping cranes are not far behind. Wolves continue to make strong recovery in Wisconsin, and we believe the timber wolf will soon no longer be considered endangered here. That will allow us to manage the species to maintain a strong population while controlling problem individuals. Elk were reintroduced seven years ago near Clam Lake and there is general support to establish a second herd in eastern Jackson County.

We hope whooping cranes will join that tally and return to Wisconsin for the first time in 123 years. We are off to a humbling beginning. A partnership of nine state, federal and private nonprofit organizations is working to re-establish whoopers in Necedah. Eight juvenile birds were led by ultralight plane on a 1,217-mile journey to wintering grounds in Florida. This spring, five survived and are expected to return to Wisconsin. From such small steps, we hope stronger numbers of cranes in more diverse flocks will take wing and spread.

Record growth at hatcheries – As long as we're discussing species growth, I should mention we should take pride in the fine year our renovated fish hatcheries had producing fish. The Spooner and Woodruff hatcheries produced a record number of walleyes and muskies for stocking. Muskellunge production reached a record 60,000 at the Gov. Thompson Hatchery in Spooner and more than two million walleye. Staff at the Art Oehmcke Hatchery in Woodruff produced 30,000 large musky fingerlings as well as record walleye production, 100,000 lake trout fingerlings and more than 120,000 wild brown trout strains.

Controlling runoff in cities as well as the countryside – The nutrients, soil and chemicals carried in water runoff continue to plague our waterways. Our considerable investments in the last 25 years have reduced pollution from wastewater treatment plants by 95 percent, and reduced runoff from agricultural lands by 70 percent, but there's more to be done. Forty-four percent of our river miles and 61 percent of our lakes can't support a full range of fish, aquatic insects and plants. The culprit remains runoff and contributions from city streets, homes, parking lots and business are every bit as important to control as rural runoff.

We are asking the Legislature to approve the plans that carry out the law they passed in 1997 – the most sweeping environmental reform in a decade. More than 153 Wisconsin municipalities will need to carry out plans to stem runoff. That need will influence the way subdivisions are developed and change practices for managing golf courses and maintaining public parks. It will change how water is collected from parking lots and the ways leaves are collected from homes. Homeowner will learn about alternatives for collecting rainwater from roofs and gutters. We will learn why it's important to slow down rainwater and encourage it to soak in near our homes and businesses. We will work so storm sewers carry water with less pollution and convey smaller amounts of rainwater directly into lakes and streams.

We anticipate spending $65 million annually to stem runoff in Wisconsin and we awarded almost $7 million last year to 43 municipalities to improve local waters degraded by runoff pollution.

Wisconsin successfully taught its citizens to reduce waste and recycle more. We face that same challenge to better control stormwater from our homes and communities.

Space constraints lead me to briefly mention other achievements we will be tracking and working on during the next year:

  • Mercury containment – Impending rules aim to reduce mercury emissions from power plants by 30 percent in the next five years, 50 percent in the next 10 years and 90 percent in the next 15 years. A state-local partnership also encouraged 11 communities to collect thermometers and other items containing mercury from schools, businesses, homes, farms, medical clinics and hospitals. New health advisories gave anglers and their families easy-to-follow advice for lessening the likelihood of mercury exposure from eating fish.

  • Protecting isolated wetlands – The Governor, lawmakers, DNR and conservation groups made Wisconsin first in the nation to restore protection to small wetlands that were vulnerable to filling and dredging as a consequence of a January 2001 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Swift state action was but one step in a collective strategy to reverse the loss of wetland acres.

  • Cleanup plans for the Lower Fox River and Green Bay – Plans to cleanup PCB-laden sediments from a 39-mile stretch of the Fox River were announced last October. The plans call to remove 67,000 pounds of PCBs trapped in 7.25 million cubic yards of sediment while minimizing health consequences of contaminated spoils that remain thereafter.

Darrell Bazzell is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.